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Ellison seeks open-source unity

Linux is making inroads against Microsoft, but to become a real threat, there must be a concerted effort to build an open-source alternative to Office, Oracle's CEO says.

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    Ellison: Linux goes corporate
    Larry Ellison, CEO, Oracle
    SAN FRANCISCO--Linux is making inroads against Microsoft, but to become a real threat there must be a concerted effort to build an open-source offering that's competitive to Microsoft Office, Larry Ellison said.

    Oracle's chief executive officer, speaking at a Linux conference here Wednesday, told the crowd of loyalists that Oracle was committed to the open-source operating system, but rained on dreams of Linux on every desktop unless there was a strong or popular open-source alternative to Office.

    Sun Microsystems has open-sourced its StarOffice product--but when Ellison asked for a show of StarOffice users and whether they were happy, he received a tepid response, even from the partisan crowd. "Open source" software may be viewed, modified and redistributed for free, unlike proprietary software such as Microsoft Windows.

    "That's the challenge?the real barrier to providing competition. I hope there is an open-source response to Office--a concerted, better-coordinated plan in addressing the 'Microsoft Office gap,'" Ellison said in a speech at the LinuxWorld Conference and Expo.

    Overall, Ellison praised the open-source community, saying Linux has progressed far enough for large corporations to begin trusting it as a cheaper, faster and more reliable alternative to using Unix or Windows operating systems on servers.

    "Linux has been the province of computer hackers, computer scientists and universities. Now, I'm afraid, in a couple of years, you will have people here with suits on. It's going to happen," Ellison said. "Linux is making its way into the enterprise and more and more companies are going to rely on it to process critical data."

    Looking to tap the miniscule, but growing Linux database market, Ellison also trumpeted Oracle's technology to the Linux faithful Wednesday afternoon.

    "We are moving very aggressively, not just to jump on the Linux hype bandwagon, but we're using Linux to run our own business," Ellison said. "We're encouraging our customers to pick Linux because it's cheaper and faster?and more reliable than any other environment around."

    Combined, Oracle and IBM have only $2 million in Linux database sales in 2001, and the market is expected to grow to $200 million in sales by 2006, according to analyst firm Gartner Dataquest.

    Oracle has invested heavily in Linux the past few years. In June, Oracle boosted its Linux support with a new version of its 9i database software that can run on a "cluster" of Linux servers. Clustering allows businesses to harness multiple servers to run a very large database, so servers can share work or take over from each other if one fails. Earlier this week, Oracle announced new file-storage software to make Linux databases work better. The "clustered file system" unifies data stored across a group of servers.

    During a question-and-answer session with the audience, Ellison touched on numerous topics, including a potential new pricing plan for Oracle software and his competition with Microsoft and IBM.

    Ellison also said the company is looking into a new subscription-priced model for Oracle software.

    "We're looking at a one-year rental or subscription model that will continue our long history of lowering our prices," he said.

    When asked about the bad economy and slowdown in software sales, Ellison answered by hawking Oracle's technology and knocking the high-cost of IBM mainframes. "If you spend less money on big IBM iron, you have a little bit (of) money (to spend) on us."

    Ellison said he was not worried about open-source databases, arguing that companies won't trust them. "Am I worried about open-source databases? I'm really not. The database is the one application that cannot fail. If an operating system goes down, you can reboot," he said. "If the database goes down, you (have to) type in all the data again. Which takes longer?"

    As he's done in the past, Ellison also clarified his role in the debate over a national standard for identification cards.

    "We should make our IDs adhere to standards, so they're not easily stolen," he said. "So what I proposed is that we should have standards for ID cards."